Two US lawmakers have introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that aims at granting an automatic right to H-4 visa holders to work in the country, a move which will benefit the spouses of thousands of foreigners, including Indians, and also address the labour shortage affecting American businesses.
H-4 visas are issued to dependent spouses and children who accompany H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, and H-3 visa holders to the United States.
Many H-4 visa holders are highly skilled people in their own right and previously had careers of their own or worked to support their families.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
While H-2A visas are issued to people doing temporary agricultural jobs, H-2B visas are for people doing temporary nonagricultural jobs and H-3 visas are for nonimmigrant trainees or special education exchange visitors.
Introduced by Congresswomen Carolyn Bourdeaux and Maria Elvira Salazar on Thursday, the H-4 Work Authorisation Act seeks to change the current law and grant the spouses of H-1B visa holders an automatic right to work after receiving their H-4 visa.
This would remove the requirement for visa holders to apply for a Form I-765, an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD), they said.
The two lawmakers said the proposed legislation is aimed at addressing the labour shortage in the country affecting American businesses and helping immigrant families thrive together.
“Right now, the spouses of highly-skilled immigrants have to fight through years of bureaucratic red tape before they are allowed to work in the United States.
“This bill removes these needless barriers to ensure families can contribute and prosper together.
"If we are going to continue to be competitive and attract the greatest minds and talent around the world, we must ensure that the family members of high-value immigrants are able to build a life and career in the United States, just like everyone else,” Bourdeaux said.
Salazar said this policy will help the US to maximise its entrepreneurial spirit and continue leading in job creation, innovation, research and development, and economic growth by meeting critical labour market needs.
Currently, the H-4 visa holders must apply for work authorisation and wait for it to be processed before they can work, even though they are already in the United States and their spouse is working here.
Due to backlogs at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), applications for work authorisation can take anywhere from six to eight months, with some applications taking over one year to be approved.
The bill, which has been endorsed by the National Immigration Forum and nonprofit advocacy organisation UnidosUs, hopes to fill America's labour gap and allow these visa holders to quickly work and provide for their families.
It could also help to reduce the backlog of work authorisation applications at USCIS by providing immediate work authorisation to H-4 visa holders and reducing the number of work authorizations USCIS must process, a media release said.